Monday, May 29, 2006

Keep Your Bumper Stickers Straight

Today's NY Times has an editorial about "Net Neutrality." The editorial gives a nice overview of the problem at hand.

Here's a quick overview, in case you haven't heard about this.

The big telcos and cable companies, not satisfied with conspiring with the government to violate Americans' Fourth Amendment rights, not to mention overcharging yours truly by a factor of 20 for long distance calling, now want to wreck the Internet.

Hyperbole? Maybe.

Right now, they are waging a lobbying effort and PR campaign to get permission to make the Internet into a price-tiered system. This would mean, immediately, that it could cost more for you to visit one site than another. You wouldn't have to pay directly, but the host of the unfavored site would. Eventually, cash-poor sites would likely disappear, or at best, would be served up so slowly that no one would visit them.

It's easy to see where this could lead next: the Web would become like FM radio -- a bland and homogenized super-sized serving of pap. Even worse, sites whose content is not favorable to whoever controls the pipes could be out-and-out blocked.

This is a serious enough problem that a new record for strangeness has been achieved in the arena of political bedfellows: the Christian Coalition and are together on this one.

As Arianna Huffington has wittily noted, the idea that the Web should be kept equally accessible for all who wish to serve up content is a great idea. Unfortunately, it suffers from its MEGO-inducing name: Net Neutrality.

The editorial mentioned at the top of this post contains one chilling fact that I had not known about. It appears that the big telcos and cable companies have branded their nefarious efforts "Hands off the Internet." As with "Healthy Forests," "Clear Skies," and "The PATRIOT Act," the surface appearance is likely to fool many.

So, just a reminder: we want "Net Neutrality," even if it doesn't sound as good. The telco/cable slogan means, "Congress, keep your hands off us, so we can make even more money by screwing up the last bastion of democracy."

The first place to find out more is at Click the bumper sticker below.

Save The Internet

Further reading:

Vint Cerf's letter to Congress is posted on the Google blog.

The telcos have their own Astroturf sites, misleading named and Josh Silver deconstructs them.

Eli Pariser catalogs and debunks some of the rumors that the Internet wreckers are trying to spread.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Now That's Creepy

From a story in today's NY Times, concerning an appearance by Michael Jackson in Japan: "He will also spend time in Tokyo touring the city, visiting orphanages . . ."

Reasons To Hate The Telcos, Part 3

So, I get an email today, notifying me that my newest AT&T bill is available for my perusal online.

What? I canceled that account a month ago!

I open the email, click on the link therein, see the bill, which looks my old usual long distance bill: $12.72 for long distance service.

I call and explain that I have closed this account. I have my notes. I have the confirmation number written down and I offer to recite it.

Smarmy customer service twinkie declines my offer. Points out that I called to cancel on 4/21, but asked that the service not be terminated until 4/25, and during that time, "You called New York, you called Philadelphia, you called ....." Yada yada yada.

After I was intimidated into hanging up, I took a closer look at the bill. It turns out that I did make those calls, on 4/22. Total charges for all calls: $0.59. The rest of the charges are the monthly service this, the surcharge that, whatever.

Well, this is likely one of those things where the fine print will say that using the service in any part of a monthly service plan entitles them to charge me for the whole month, or some nonsense like that. Probably not worth fighting about -- it'll cost me more than twelve bucks in stomach acid, even if I do win.

So, they gave my calling data out to the NSA, they want to ruin the freedom of the Web, and now, they want to screw me out of twelve bucks.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Something I Don't Understand

What's the etymology of "white shoe," when referring to law firms?

The implication is that the firm serves only the big boys, and I speculate that, therefore, they never get their feet dirty by chasing ambulances or otherwise wallowing in the gutter.

But to me, white shoes connote a sartorial gaffe, suggesting a lack of class. I always picture white shoes with a white belt and a plaid suit.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sweet Dreams

Have a moment or two of blissful escape, courtesy of the Oval Office.

Thanks for the link, KK.

Believe It Or Not . . .

. . . a good idea in education!

I learned about The Posse Foundation in a story in the NY Times.

The foundation evidently tries to identify promising students in high schools that are a cut below the obvious standouts and helps them secure admission and scholarship money at colleges. Their novel idea is to place the students into small groups (whence "posse") that will attend the same college together. Prior to entering, the groups participate in a bunch of prep work designed to help them make the leap.

The success of the students, based on graduation rates, seem to be well above the average college student.

If you're like me, and would like to donate some money to an organization that seems like it actually might be an investment in the future, you may want to check it out.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Meaning of Life. On TV.

Here's something well worth your while:

Posted on this site, which is hosted by, are interviews with a large number of deep thinkers. I have only watched four so far, but I'll certainly watch them all.

My favorite so far: Edward O. Wilson.

I'm looking forward to the one with Ursula Goodenough. I've never heard of her, but how great is that name?

The interviews are on video, so it's a bit of a nuisance for those with slower connections. They're tolerable over my cheap DSL connection (download speed: 256 Kbps -- less than 5x faster than dialup). I find that the Flash versions on Google are less prone to stalling than the WMF files on the originating site, and it helps to pause the video at the start for a minute or two, to let the buffer on your home system get a head start.

As the video consists almost exclusively of a headshot of one person or the other, sitting in a chair talking, there's not really much to see. But the audio is highly content-rich. To this end, and out of consideration for my dialup friends, I have appealed to the feedback section of, and given my clout, I'm sure they'll post the audio-only version RSN.

More Orwellian Words From The Bush Cronies

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, responding to the release of the new Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, put out a couple of counterspin commercials last week.

According to a story in the NY Times, this is the tag line for the ads:

Carbon dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life.
This calls for a glacier joke right about now, but the top download on iTunes has beaten me to the punch.

We're Not There Yet

The next time your hear some Republican proselytizing about the glories of our free market system, ask why a business that makes $50 million a year in profit has to fret about its evident demise. Ask why the company that just bought it is looking to unload it ASAP. Ask why the only fix being proposed is cutting staff.

I'm speaking, at this moment, about the troubles plaguing The Philadelphia Inquirer, but newspapers nationwide have the same problems. That is, they're making money, in many cases at a margin that would be the envy of many businesses, and no one apart from a few mouth-breathing Fox News watchers seems to dislike their product.

The free market evangelist will likely spout a few talking points about newspapers not being a growth stock, and with sufficient prodding, will go on to praise the suits who get their arms folded pictures on the cover of rags like Forbes merely for laying people off.

I read somewhere, yesterday, that there's only four ways to improve a newspaper: better reporting, better writing, better editing, and better pictures.

So here's my point: if an industry that consistently makes money, employs people, and produces an arguably worthwhile product is in trouble, then what's so great about our financial system?

I'm not arguing for communism or any other form of centrally controlled system. But I do think that capitalism belongs in the "least bad that we've come up with so far" category.

As a stopgap measure, I propose that the wealthier of you buy newspaper companies and take the stock out of the public market.

$1,000,000,000?? *#%&!!

I have been reading about the price tag for the latest version of the 9/11 memorial.

Now, I am not a resident of New York City, and I didn't lose a lot of friends when the World Trade Center was destroyed. But I'd like to believe, even if my circumstances were different, that I would feel this same way:

A billion dollars for what amounts to a giant "Kick Me" sign for the next round of suicide bombers? Boneheaded boondoggle doesn't even come close.

Here's one proposal that might help keep the costs down: Pass a law that makes it a felony for any political figure to use the memorial site for a photo op.

Cheesy Read

Have you seen the new "Easy Read" format for paperback books?

These are paperbacks shaped like mass-market paperbacks, except that they are about an inch taller. They cost two or three bucks more than the equivalent in the standard form. It's not clear what makes them easier to read, although the one that I have read in this format seemed to have larger gullies, which made it slightly easier to hold one-handed. And by "slightly," I mean "microscopically, and certainly not worth the surcharge."

The real annoyance with this new format is that if you're like me, you segregate your paperbacks from your hardcovers, for compactness in shelving, and you often even refrain from buying something in hardcover, because the rest of the works by this author that you own are all in mass-market paperback format.

(Isn't it great how the second person makes this your obsession, and not mine?)

Anyway, this new dreamchild of some suit messes with the system. Don't buy into it.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


No, not that magazine. I'm speaking of words to live by.

I just came up with a new one:

Never read a newspaper that uses fume as a verb.

I'm adding this to my collection:

  • Never eat at a restaurant named Mom's.
  • Never play cards with a man named Doc.
  • Never invest in anything that needs feeding or painting. (Red Smith, I think)

Contributions welcome!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Resolved: To Not Always Follow The Rules

One of my language pet peeves is a reverse of my usual reactionary stance in these matters: I dislike people insisting upon never splitting infinitives.

To my mind, many a sentence has a slightly different connotation if the rule is always blindly followed. Here's an example:

I don't even have an e-mail address. I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages.

This Umberto Eco line* sounds like Eco is implying that he has another main purpose, when I think he is really trying to say, "I have reached an age where my main purpose is to not receive messages."

Granted, he could have said, "I have reached an age where my main purpose is to avoid receiving messages." And I do admit, I prefer the recast sentence to the split infinitive version in this example. (Note to self: think before typing.)

But still. It's not always easy to recast. I'm on the hunt for a better example. And I'm no fuddy-duddy -- send your suggestions to me by email or any other message format.

*Eco, according to Donald Knuth, according to Neal Stephenson

Etaoin Shrdlu

So, in the interest of refreshing my C programming skills, I've decided to do the exercises in the classic K&R book. One of these exercises was to create a histogram of character frequencies in a given input file.

I wrote the program, tested it on some files small enough to count by hand, and then ran it on the entire contents of my blog (just my original posts, not the comments).

According to the Fun With Words site: the ordering of the letters, based on "the frequency of letters as they appear in speech and writing" in English, is as follows:

etaoin shrdlu cmfgyp wbvkxj qz

(The first two chunks are an old mnemonic for typesetters. You knew the title of this post looked somehow familiar, right?)

My writing produced the following results (about 150,000 letters):

etoansirhldmucpgyfwbkvxqjz (lowercase only) etoainsrhldpmcugywfbkvjxqz (case-insensitive) etaoinshrdlucmfgypwbvkxjqz (ref. cited above)

Note how I jumps up a few positions when case is not a factor -- that's likely from the use of the first person pronoun.

But I do wonder: have I got something against U?

By George, He's Actually Learned Something!

From last night's speech:

"We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears . . ."
--George W. Bush

Monday, May 15, 2006

That Nutty Economist

Check out this cover: The Economist (May 13th, 2006)

Hate clicking on links? Okay, I'll give it away. There's a photo of George Bush and Tony Blair, and the caption is "Axis of Feeble."

Need Some Fresh Links?

Happy to oblige!

The following two are links to specific pieces. There are other good things on the respective sites.

The source for these links is worth a look, too, obviously: Blog of a Bookslut

Momentary Hope

So, I wake up on this Monday morning and open the email summary of today's paper that the NY Times sends out.

National Guard on the Mexican border? Skip. Suicide bombing in Iraq? Skip. Medicare deadline spurs debate . . . Snoooooooze.

Wait. Here's one!

Conservative Christians Warn Republicans Against Inaction


Influential Christians say they are dissatisfied and may withhold their support in the midterm elections.

Even before clicking the link, a few swallows of coffee convinces me that this idea is best filed under "Yeah, sure."

Reading the story brings additional dashings of harsh reality. I am reminded that this is a familiar tactic, of special interest groups in general, and the right wingnuts in particular: threaten to withhold support right before an upcoming election in the interests of gaining even more clout.

And by "even more clout," I mean snippets like these, featuring the ever-frightening James Dobson [emph. added]:

In a recent interview with Fox News on the eve of a visit to the White House, he accused Republicans of "just ignoring those that put them in office."


"There's just very, very little to show for what has happened," Dr. Dobson said, "and I think there's going to be some trouble down the road if they don't get on the ball."

According to people who were at the meetings or were briefed on them, Dr. Dobson has made the same point more politely in a series of private conversations over the last two weeks in meetings with several top Republicans, including Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser; Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader; Representative J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the House speaker; and Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader.

In two weeks, he's met with the President, the President's brain, and the three most powerful members of Congress? This guy has more access than most members of the Cabinet.

Here's a picture of him. Doesn't it give you a warm fuzzy?

Photo credit: Jeff Fusco/Getty Images, via The New York Times

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Re noun ciation

Unlike my many pet peeves about verbification, I am always happy to learn a new noun or a new definition for a noun that I thought I knew.

What's a reefer, for example?

Bong! Incorrect answer! Your mind has gone to pot.

I just learned that in the newspaper biz, a reefer is a "notice to readers that a related story is published elsewhere." (source, via Google "define:")


Baseball -- The Numbers Game?

Just read the following quote in the NY Times Sports Section:

Jeter makes that play 10 of 10 times, usually.
--Kyle Farnsworth

This brings to mind the old chestnut, attributed to many coaches and managers:

Baseball is 50% pitching, 50% hitting, and 50% defense.

Add your favorites in the comments section.

Gone, Baby, Gone

I have finally bitten the bullet, and canceled my Earthlink account. A bit sad, in some ways -- I started with them back in the late 90s, when they were a Pasadena-based startup that was so small that they didn't even have a Pasadena number for dial-in access.

For the past few months, I had the account autoforwarding to my new email address, mostly as a courtesy to those of you who hadn't had a chance to update your address books. (If you still haven't, see this page.)

This is also the address by which most spammers "know me," so the autoforwarding meant that my new address got all of the old spam. It was initially a bit off-putting, and then quickly delightful, to check my mail this morning, now that the Earthlink account is no more, and see this many spams: 0.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Verb This!

Jesse Sheidlower has a nice piece on, documenting one man's lobbying efforts to include concept as a verb in the next edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

If you want to harsh on the misguided lobbyist directly, and well you should, visit his blog.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

You're Probably Already on The List

It turns out that the NSA, having found listening in on Arabic phone calls entirely too complicated (why can't they speak English?), has instead focused on Americans. Not just your overseas calls anymore. Now they want the phone records of every call made by every American. If you're a customer of AT&T, Verizon, or BellSouth, good news -- you've already complied!

More good news: the nominee to replace Porter Goss as the head of the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden, was in charge of the NSA during this surveillance program.

From the FWIW department . . . If you want to sign a petition expressing your annoyance with this latest example of W's disregard for your rights, here's one. You'll have to give your name, but you know how I feel about that.

Yeah, yeah. A petition. Big whoop.

But it's a start.

[Update 05/12/2006 08:14 EDT] There's a nice graphic of the timeline of this whole sordid business, at the NY Times's site.

Monday, May 08, 2006


So, I thought I had pretty much covered everything in the way of updating contact info related to my recent move. Oh, wait. I gotta do my web page still.

But I remembered something this morning -- giving my new phone number to the Do Not Call registry. I had been getting some junk phone calls at the new number, which seemed almost quaint. Two of them were actual phishing schemes, but it was too early in the day to play along.

One complaint about the modern age: pushing an "End" button is not nearly as satisfying as banging down the phone.